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Thanksgiving Day has become the most welcomed non-religious holiday in North America despite the fact that it started off with deeply religious roots, (and despite the fact that Canada and the U.S. celebrate this on different dates). Harvest festivals throughout history and around the world reveal the human condition to celebrate gratitude for seasons of bounty.

C.S. Lewis takes us further into gratitude-as-expressed-in-praise, when he gives some insight to the communal nature (imperative?) of expressing praise:

We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating… to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch…

The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him

Gratitude and Harvest

Thus I arrive at this Thanksgiving with gratitude because, as Lewis put it, “praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.” I come with deep gratefulness for friends who have lived, who have enlivened me, and who have died. This may not be a normal thing to be thankful for, but I appreciate not being afraid of death (which says more about the One in whom I trust, than it says about my trust). This harvest season has reaped the lives of close friends, and it hints to the beginning of the third third of life.

Gratitude: good for your health

Recently Cathy Gulli wrote “Why gratitude could be good for your health.” Though she claims that “humans are hardwired to see the negative in life,” there is “growing research that shows feeling grateful can boost health, school grades, and even brain function.”

The notion that we should appreciate what we have is widespread and long-standing, with everyone from Jesus Christ to the Dalai Lama to Oprah extolling the virtue. What started out as a theological notion has been co-opted by a secular culture, but that hasn’t made gratitude any easier to internalize.

Like the Thanksgiving holiday itself, giving thanks is being co-opted (or being re-discovered?) by a culture untethered from it’s faith roots. For example, Janice Kaplan conducted a study on gratitude for the philanthropic John Templeton Foundation. She exposed what she called a “gratitude gap”: nearly all participants believed that grateful people are “more fulfilled and lead a richer life,” but fewer than half reported being grateful regularly.

In The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life, Kaplan describes how she learned to “reframe” the way she thought about her husband, children, finances, career, even food and exercise—to focus more on the good in front of her than on the bad frustrating her.

“It’s an idea entrenched in the emerging science of gratitude, pioneered by American psychologist Robert Emmons, who is featured in the book alongside many other researchers. In fact, Kaplan’s experiences dovetail with recent work by trail-blazing neuroscientists, cardiologists, psychologists and educators that reveals the direct effects of gratitude not just on happiness, but on romantic relationships, health and brain function. Gratitude can reduce symptoms that exacerbate diseases, and in children and youth, it can help develop self-awareness and community-mindedness, even boost academic performance.”

All the Wise are doing it: Giving Thanks

Ann Voskamp

Ann Voskamp

As Gulli suggests, all the wise guys (from Jesus… even to Oprah?) recognize the wisdom of gratitude. Well before Kaplan did her study, and before gratitude science emerged, Christian thinkers and writers over the last two millennia have been eucharist (“to give thanks”) enthusiasts. From Jesus Himself, and throughout scripture, the bible is replete with the encouragement to give thanks. Writer Ann Voskamp has been at it for a long time with her blog, “A Holy Experience“, and her book, 1000 gifts. Prolific are her insights to living gratefully – and so much of that is connected living faithfully (that is to say – living with faith). To be grateful is to have spiritual insight – not just “looking on the bright side” – but looking to the light Himself.

Encouragement

This is my encouragement to explore the territory of thankfulness – to find the source and destination of your gratitude in the One who made you for Himself.

This is my encouragement to find meaning in the experiences of your life – even in those shards that contribute to your appreciation of life! There’s a lot of mystery in life when you can see past resentment and regret.

This is my encouragement to find people who have managed to live gratefully and wisely and gracefully. You know the ones, for they are rare. Hang out with those folk, stand amazed at it all… and be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

For more, go to “Gratitude provides a window to a windowless room.”

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